FAQ Fridays: Photography Starter kit

We often get asked by visitors about what gear to get for their first “photography” kit. The answer can certainly change depending on what your needs are, but if your needs are for a starter “portrait” kit, then read this post for our answer.


I just started my own knit shop on Etsy and would like to know what camera you would suggest for a beginner doing photo shoots in and outside featuring knit items like hats, scarves, etc on models…. What do you think of the Nikon D3100? I like the D90 but I am having problems finding one:-( I like the same feel of your photos. and I love the vintage/Boho look also.


When comparing a certain camera with the higher models up, you have to make sure you need the extra features that you will be paying for. What you usually get when you upgrade to a better camera body is: 1) more features for more precise manual control 2) better focusing 3) more durability and 4) better image quality in low light. Of course, it also depends on which models you are comparing.

With this specific example, comparing the D3100 to the D90… you will get A LOT more. The D3100 (and D5100 as well) is considered entry level, where a D90 is considered a mid-level camera. The D90 will have more focus points, a built-on focus engine (which means you can auto-focus on older lenses), ability to control remote flashes with the built-in camera flash, and just as important is… better low light (high ISO) picture quality. My advice has always been, if you are serious about photography, then getting the better camera body will save you the money and hassle of eventually upgrading to that camera later on. For the price, the D90 is a great camera… the newer D7000 is EVEN better. Anything better than D7000 is venturing into “pro” grade gear.

Now in regards to product photos… as with all photography, it is all about lighting. If you have a big window in your living room for natural light, it will save you a lot of money when shooting indoors. You can use the window light as the main light source. However, if you need indoor lighting, then the basic set up for product shots would be to have a nice background with two lights behind umbrella diffusers (one light from each side). You will need to be able to remotely control these lights (off-camera lighting will provide more flattering photos than direct flash attached to your camera). This is where an entry level DSLR like the D3100 lacks that “remote control” feature. If using the D3100, you will need an extra remote commander (Nikon SU-800 ~$250) that slides on top of your camera hotshoe and controls the remote flashes. The mid-grade cameras like the D90 or the newer and even better D7000 have the ability to control the remote flashes with their built-in flash.

For a basic lighting setup, you will need:
– 1 or more speedlights
– an umbrella lighting kit (comes with light stands, umbrellas and necessary adapters). The umbrella diffuses the light from the flash to create soft, more pleasing shadows.

Take a look at our Gear page for links to the speedlights and umbrella kits we recommend.

With portraits of someone wearing your products, the same idea works. Having nice natural lighting can save you a lot of money. If you want to use flash, just follow the same lighting set-up above. If you do not have flash photography, this is also where your camera body upgrade pays off. Better cameras like the D90, and especially the D7000 will have MUCH better picture quality under lower light conditions (like indoors).

It is worth mentioning that, just as important as good lighting is the lens being used. The kit lenses that come with cameras are usually the starter lenses that will not be able to give you defocused backgrounds for subject isolation. It is mainly because of their lack of Aperture settings control. A good lens to start with is the affordable Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G (~$200). That’s a great starter portrait lens. The next lens to think about after that would be a 50mm lens.

Again, take a look at our Gear page for links to the lenses we recommend.

Also, for a good explanation why you need a good lens, take a look at our post that explains aperture settings and how they affect your photos.

I hope this helps you more than it confuses =/. Thanks so much for stopping by our site… and of course, if you have further questions on this topic, just leave your questions in the comments section below.

What is FAQ Fridays?
FAQ Fridays is an ongoing weekly feature on this site where WE answer questions submitted by you. We hope this new segment will help with many of your photography challenges. As always, you can ask questions in the comments section if it relates to that certain post.

Here is a list of: all previous FAQ Fridays posts

If you have specific questions that do not relate directly… then feel free to submit your questions by using the FAQ Fridays Submission Form page.

Alternatively, you can email your questions to: faq -at- prettygeeky.com (note: email broken up to prevent spam bots).

  • kim said:

    Thanks so much for answering my questions!! Great post:-) I bought a D90!! So excited to get started on my shop:-) Thanks again. LOVE the blog!